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  • Zeroing Out Marriage

    President Obama addressed an attentive audience at a community center in Southeast Washington this week and called once again for a “new conversation about fatherhood.”   He also took the occasion to announce a nationwide Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative, which will be complemented by a $500 million Fatherhood, Marriage and Families Innovation Fund.  The Fund will make grants to nonprofits across the country for a variety of purposes that the President outlined as including “jobs training, or parenting skills classes, [or] domestic violence prevention.”

    The President was at his most eloquent – and clearly most engaged – when he reminisced about the drive home from the hospital with wife Michelle and their newborn Malia (“going about 10 miles per hour”).  He mentioned the fact that his own father abandoned the family when Barack was two years old.  He vowed, he said, that, “If I could be anything in life, I would be a good father.”  He went on to say, “The most challenging, the most fulfilling, the most important job I will have during my time on this Earth is to be Sasha and Malia’s dad.”

    Fortunately, the President’s public remarks did not repeat the language in his printed proclamation for Father’s Day 2010, where he celebrated an array of family “forms” that included “two fathers” and even a “caring guardian.” The most significant omission from the proclamation, however, is the one that also gets short shrift in the President’s Families Innovation Fund – a focus on marriage.  The Innovation Fund replaces a Bush Administration program called the Healthy Marriage Initiative, which committed $100 million per year to programs designed to encourage marriage in communities where the institution is culturally weak or nearly non-existent.  Instead, the Innovation Fund will throw $500 million into grants for job training, child support enforcement case management, and domestic violence prevention.  Marriage promotion is reduced to merely a component of the initiative.

    As if to underscore the shift in emphasis, the Fund will be managed from the Child Support Enforcement branch of the Health and Human Services Department’s Administration for Children and Families, rather than the Office of Family Assistance, where the marriage program had been housed.  The Fund’s presumption is continued father absence, its focus is programming of doubtful efficacy, and its outcome measurements make no mention of trying to increase marriage rates.  But a dollar bill cannot tuck a child in at night and a child support check cannot make sure a daughter’s homework is done.  Real fathering is priceless.

    The widening marriage gap in U.S. society is tracking gaps in education and income and helping to make them permanent. Everything in the extraordinary arc of the Obama family, from the President’s yearning for the father he barely knew to the Obamas becoming the nation’s First Family, reflects the social reality that marriage is a gateway to personal happiness and success.  Unfortunately, the President’s proposed budget obscures that truth.  When it comes to fatherhood, following his example, and not his policies, is the wiser course.

    Posted in Culture [slideshow_deploy]

    2 Responses to Zeroing Out Marriage

    1. Seth Eisenberg says:

      As reported in a recent article on fatherhoodchannel.com, there is much that is positive in the proposed $500 million Fatherhood, Marriage and Families Innovation Fund. In testimony to the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support this month on behalf of PAIRS Foundation, I expressed my hope that the final authorization will include allowing nonprofits to compete for funding (thousands of jobs are at stake for relationship and marriage education instructors and support staff nationwide) to implement comprehensive demonstration programs and also require 25 percent of the fund be allocated for preventative, evidence-based approaches that have succeeded in breaking the cycle of marital and family breakdown in low-income communities.

    2. Tracey, New York says:

      It is unfortunate that the Fund omits the marriage component, but not all is loss. I don't know if he was attempting to focus on "family" in the more contemporary sense or if he wanted to reach more fathers by not alienating them. Either way, I think that a father is not necessarily left out of the family because the parents are not married, I too would like to see marriage promoted more but do not want to alienate those who choose non-marriage.

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